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Advent 4B Sermon
Luke 1: 26-38
December
24, 2017

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his risen son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

Don’t be afraid! Has anyone ever said that to you? What usually follows those words? Now don’t be afraid, but … “look who’s coming … I have to break something to you … I have to go away …” In our lives, if we hear someone tell us not to be afraid, it is usually because they are about to share something that can cause us fear.
In our Gospel reading this morning, after the angel Gabriel greets Mary and assures her that the Lord has (for some strange reason) found favor with her, a 13 year old girl with absolutely no social standing in that society at all, he tells her not to be afraid. She probably thought she had something to be afraid of, since the religious authorities were probably telling her over and over about the wrath of God if she did not follow the law perfectly as they taught it! Instead, the angel speaks a word of grace – she has found favor with the Lord; there is no reason given for this, just that it has happened. And as a result of God’s favor, she is going to bear a child that will be the Son of the Most High, the one who will re-claim the throne of David which God promised would be occupied forever. This is good news indeed; and it is news that can cause a person to be afraid.

Earlier in the chapter, Gabriel appeared to someone else with those same words. That time it was Zecheriah, one of the men serving the temple as a priest. He was a person of relatively high standing in the community of his day. He was much different from his wife Elizabeth’s relative, young Mary. But he heard the same words: “Do not be afraid…” The news he is told is that his wife, though elderly and barren, will bear a son and he is to name him John. John will prepare the way for the Lord.
In the New Testament, angels like Gabriel visit people with the words, “Do not be afraid” on multiple occasions. They are certainly words of assurance – that these people have nothing to fear even though they might be frightened by the looks of this being, let alone his message. But they are more than words of assurance. In all instances, they have further purpose.

First of all, on many levels they offer comfort. The status quo is about to be shaken up, altered and disrupted. These words will linger for these people as events unfold as a constant reminder that the presence of God is with them no matter what happens. In the cases of Zecheriah and Mary, each are having babies in extreme circumstances – one is a virgin and the other’s wife is barren. These are signs that the children will be important parts of God’s mission on earth.

These are also words of comfort to people who live under duress, attack and persecution. The Roman occupation of their land was not a pleasant thing to endure. Even though they did bring about a number of improvements to their society, it came at a high price, literally with taxes, and figuratively, with total loyalty and obedience to Caesar as the Son of God. This was something that went against their Jewish faith.

Besides comfort, the words, “Do not fear,” also will provide opportunities for courageous actions to take place. Mary is called to believe that she will bear a child without having relations with her betrothed, and this will certainly bring disgrace to her and her family. Zecheriah is called to name the child John without any reason to do so except that the angel has told him to. Both are called to believe that Gabriel says and somewhat passively allow what he has promised to happen in their lives.
Finally, and most importantly, the phrase, “Do not fear” is an invitation. These people are called to do the unusual for the sake of the entire world. Why? Because of the promise that Gabriel shares just before he departs: Nothing will be impossible with God! If a person truly believes that, then they have nothing to fear, and they can follow God’s lead as things unfold.

Tonight we will gather here as Christians gather in churches all over the world. This morning we have an opportunity to prepare for that celebration. Our worship time this morning is not a celebration; it is not even a thanksgiving or a commemoration. The focus of our worship this morning is assurance. Folks … do not be afraid! The Lord has found favor with you. Find comfort in those words, knowing that the status quo of our lives is about to be disrupted; be comforted knowing that the duress that many of us live under is very real. There will be opportunities coming soon for courageous action to be taken by you and me; we are invited to do what some may call unusual and bold for the sake of God’s mission in the world. For nothing will be impossible with God!
Our Psalmody today wasn’t from a Psalm, but from some verses later in Luke 1. It is a passage that is sometimes called The Magnificat. It is Mary’s song that she sings to Elizabeth when she goes to stay with her for three months during her pregnancy. It is a song which Mary believed with her whole heart, even though the powers of the world should not like it when they hear it. Power, wealth and strength are declared as doomed, and poverty, hunger and lowliness are to be redeemed by God through Mary’s son. It is a counter-cultural message, especially in this day and age where the rich seem to be getting more and more power.

But it is good news for us, even when we consider ourselves as the richer, stronger, more powerful people of the world. God’s promise of salvation is intended for all people, no matter their social standing or wealth. God loves us all, and desires for us to believe the words that with him, nothing is impossible. It may seem odd, but we are called in our wealth to celebrate that God is going to bring us down, while he lifts up those who have less. That is what the Christ child will do. That is why we need to hear these words this morning: Do not be afraid!

At the end of our service we will share together the words of Mary’s song in an arrangement that I am sure will be new to you. I have sung it on a couple of occasions, but you probably have not. It is jazzy. It is upbeat. It moves quickly. And it is the perfect way to sing these words as Gabriel’s greeting, “Do not be afraid” linger in our ears. “My soul does magnify the Lord; my spirit sings of God my savior, for he has looked with love and favor on his lowly servant!” When we sing those words, may we feel the spirit moving us from fear to faith as we anticipate God’s coming into this world. Amen!